Exploring changes in the lives of BRAC women: A gender perspective

In Bangladesh, patriarchal norms, ideology and social institutions shape women's role and status in the society. Within this patriarchal system, some forces like NGOs may affect the relationship between men and women with respect to prestige, power and control, by enhancing or lowering the status of women in different spheres and locations.

This descriptive qualitative study was conducted over a three months period as a part of BRAC-ICDDR,B Joint Research Project in Matlab. Of the three villages studied, two were located in areas where BRAC/RDP activities were being undertaken, while the remaining village had no BRAC intervention. The study population consisted of eighteen cases of BRAC and non-BRAC women of equivalent socioeconomic status selected by means of a quota sampling technique. Different data collection techniques were used including life histories for case studies, key informant interview and group discussion.

Study findings revealed that in certain areas the thoughts and ideology of BRAC women appeared quite distinct from non-BRAC women. Many of these differences were apparent in their attitudes and some through their actual practices and behavior. Confusion and contradiction between attitudes and practices however, suggested that BRAC women were in a period of transition. Although they were becoming more aware of the importance of gender equity, the dilemmas they experienced regarding marriage, dowry and divorce indicated their ongoing uncertainty about applying their acquired social and legal knowledge.

Compared to non-BRAC women, notable differences regarding notion of purdah and male power in the household were apparent among BRAC women. For them, the concept of purdah have been transformed to an abstract level and to some extent, transcended gender. Giving greater emphasis to an individual’s intention and iman (faith in Allah), some BRAC women suggested that purdah was equally applicable for men and women.

With regard to power relations within the household, many BRAC women indicated that control over household resources and decision makings were no longer an area of male monopoly. Aware of their increasing knowledge and capacity resulting from their involvement in BRAC programs, many women underscored its implications for the existing power relations in the largely patriarchal society. Consequently, BRAC women encountered severe criticisms from various sections of the society who were in fear of losing their age-old exclusive power. As a consequence of dual workload of BRAC related activities and household chores, BRAC women’s notion about equity in division of labor within household was changing. Besides, a remarkable shift with regard to aspirations concerning boy and girl children was also apparent among BRAC women. Presently, they appeared to be more interested in daughters’ education than their sons education. Two factors were responsible for this spectacular change: one was government's scholarship for female education and another was job availability in the garment industries in the city. These macro level forces that were encouraging female education did not affect non-BRAC women. Indeed, the study indicated that involvement in BRAC’s programme interventions have influenced women’s thoughts and ideology regarding gender equity. On the basis of study findings, a pathways of changes in the ideology, attitudes and aspirations regarding issues of gender equity was charted. In that pathway, three crucial issues were identified which had a major influence on women’s thought and ideology, e.g., money (savings and credit), knowledge and skill and mobility.

The pathways of changes in the ideology, attitudes and aspirations of BRAC women on the issue of gender equity suggested that BRAC interventions contributed changes in gender stereotyped ideology and attitudes.

Related information

  • Writer Name: Amina Mahbub
  • Published Date: Sunday, 09 September 2001
  • Country: Bangladesh